Electrical/Charging Systems

A car's electrical system is powered by and depended on the battery.  Think of the battery in the car as the "brain" of the car's electrical system.  A car's electrical system is made up of a web of wires, fuses and relays.  Basic electrical wiring carries the current supplied by the car's battery and directs it to various components.  Fuses, that serve to protect the electrical system and components and relays, which act as magnetic switches to redirect current comprise the heart of any vehicle's electrical system.  When any of these components fail, simple components such as your lights, blinkers, or radio may not work--or even worse, your ABS brakes, traction control, or even your engine may seize to operate.

Most of us have experienced this scenario, you are about to leave to work and your car will not start, so you grab a pair of jumper cables and have your neighbor jump start your car and you are on your way to work.  However sometimes, if that one jump you needed in the morning has multiplied to several jump starts during the day to start your car every time, your car's charging system is in trouble.  Your car's charging system comprises of three items, the battery, a voltage regulator and the alternator.  A good battery is needed to start your vehicle; therefore, if you are having a difficult time cranking your engine in the morning, especially in the winter time, you are in need of a new battery.  Once your engine has turned over and running, your car's alternator takes over keeping the battery charged, electrical components powered and your engine running. If your car does start fine; however, driving down the road you notice that your radio doesn't work anymore, lights are dimming and your engine misfires and eventually dies on you; this is a classic sign that the alternator, not the battery may be at fault.

About the Alternator

Believe it or not but your car's alternator is an alternating current (AC) generator thus the name of "alternator".  Special rectifier diodes inside the alternator convert the AC current to direct current (DC) needed for the car's electrical systems.  DC generators or dynamos have not been used in cars since around the 1960s, this is mostly because a car's electrical system needs a lot of current to power everything and the physics of alternators create the much needed current much more efficiently than a dynamo.

Most alternators are found in the front of the engine and are driven by the engines crankshaft via a serpentine belt.  The belt then spins a rotor shaft which then creates the electrical current for your vehicle and keeps the battery charged.  Like all other mechanical things, the alternator will die in time, typically because the bearings that keep the rotor spinning wear out due to dust and heat breakdown.  If you are hearing loud grinding noises coming from the alternator, it's a matter of time before the alternator will seize to work.

Most cars today have a light that turns on when you turn the ignition switch; this light is usually symbolized by a battery icon.  Chances are that if that light is not turning on or the voltmeter on the dashboard is reading low when you turn the key and the rest of the accessories in your car are working fine, your alternator may not be working.  The car may start, but as you learned earlier, it's a matter of time that the battery will drain and your car will seize to operate.

A quick way to check the charging system is to start the car and turn on the headlights. If the headlights are dim, it indicates the lights are running off the battery and that little or no juice is being produced by the alternator. If the lights get brighter as you rev the engine, it means the alternator is producing some current, but may not be producing enough at idle to keep the battery properly charged. If the lights have normal brightness and don't change intensity as the engine is revved, your charging system is functioning normally.

At the Color Works, our master ASE certified mechanic has the knowledge and tools to fix your car's electrical nightmares.  Whether it be a simple fix such as replacing a battery or an alternator, or a much more complex issue with your car's electrical system, we got you covered!